The three ‘T’ squares

The three ‘T’ squares

Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Tahrir Square in Cairo and Taksim Square in Istanbul have become the revolutionary symbols of the 21stcentury. The Roman game of death is still played in these modern coliseums with water cannons, teargas shells, roaring tanks, bullets and blood, where the voice of reason is silenced by gunpowder.

The months of May and June seem significant in the bloody drama. Although the Arab Spring started in January-February of 2011 at Tahrir Square to oust Hosni Mubarak, ironically its culmination came on June 4, 2014 when the former army chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was elected back to power following a questionable election. Similarly, on June 4, 1989 over a 1000 youth were crushed to death in the Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

The Turkish police used brutal force to disperse the young, sleeping demonstrators that had gathered to commemorate the police attack of May 2013. I watched the scene in disgust from the window of my hotel room overlooking the Taksim Square,

Taksim, Tahrir or Tiananmen, whatever the name of the Square, the marching boots and speeding bullets always mute passionate shouts of freedom.

In Taksim Square, the police were hostile not only to the demonstrators but also to the innocent street vendors selling fruit, ice cream, Turkish delights and souvenirs. One evening, while walking through the Square, I saw a vendor selling delicious watermelons. All the countries along the Mediterranean coast produce delicious fruits, particularly watermelons. I paid 5 Turkish liras (around US$2) for a plastic tray full of watermelon pieces. I borrowed a knife from the vendor to cut the large pieces down to an eatable size. But before I could taste a piece, the vendor raced out of the Square with his trolley and vanished into a crowded side street. And there I was, with a plastic fork and a knife in my hand, when a dozen or so policemen came rushing to chase the vendors out of the Taksim Square. A Pakistani with a knife in hand in the middle of the Taksim Square is a scary thought. I immediately threw the knife in a dustbin and ran straight to my hotel lobby without a second glance at the advancing police. 

After the Egyptian Revolution in 1919, the Square came to be known as Tahrir (Liberation) Square. But it was during 1952 revolution that the Square was officially named Tahrir Square.

During the reign of Sultan Mahmud I, the drinking water from the north was collected in a stone reservoir at this Square (Meydan) and distributed (Taksim) to the rest of the city. It was because of the water distribution that this area got the name Taksim Meydan.

Now, the Taksim Square is the throbbing heart of the European part of Istanbul where one finds five-star hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, exchange bureaus, pubs, fast food chains and even a Pakistani restaurant called Musafir. On one end of the Taksim Square is Istiklal Caddesi or the Independence Avenue that is a long pedestrian shopping street. It is a great experience to ride the good old tram from the Taksim Square along Istiklal Caddesi to the tunnel, the world’s second oldest subway line after the London Underground.

Turkish dramas like Ishqe Mamnun, Mera Sultan and scores of others, telecast on various Pakistani channels have created an extraordinary interest in Turkey. Families and friends, educational institutions, and corporate houses have focused on Turkey, spurring potential vacationers to travel there with family, for educational tours and for marketing conferences.


My association with Cairo’s Tahrir Square is long, because PIA’s office was on the adjoining Qasr al-Nil Street. I was manager of PIA in Egypt and, as such, I had to cross Tahrir Square daily to go to my office and cross the Qasr al-Nil Bridge across the River Nile to return to my house in Dukki.

In the 19th century, the Square was commissioned by an Egyptian ruler, Khedive Ismail, and was named Ismailia Square.

After the Egyptian Revolution in 1919, the Square came to be known as Tahrir (Liberation) Square. But it was during 1952 revolution, when an autocratic republic replaced the constitutional monarchy, that the Square was officially named Tahrir Square.

The Square is surrounded by historical buildings including the Egyptian Museum, statue of national hero Umar Makram, headquarters of National Democratic Party (burnt during the protests), the famous Nile Hilton, and the nearby residence of the Pakistani Ambassador at a villa donated by Sir Agha Khan to the government of Pakistan.

The Tahrir Square has always been a gathering ground for families and friends, particularly during the month of Ramzan when they spend the whole night from iftaar to sehar celebrating the holy month.

The Square, a symbol of revolutionary protests after the Arab Spring of 2011, has had only two protests in its recorded history: the Bread Riots of 1977 and protests against the Iraq invasion in 2003.

It is interesting to know that Pakistan had a head-start in the field of tourism when Zulifkar Ali Bhutto focused on this lucrative industry in 1972. All other countries of the region, including China, moved into the tourism field in 1978 and after.

In 1988, I was part of the Pakistani tourism delegation invited by the government of the People’s Republic of China on a two-week tour of the country. We visited the Tiananmen Square, one of the largest squares in the world that could accommodate over half a million party members at a time. The Tiananmen Square was designed and built in 1651 and, since then, has been expanded four times and now ranks as the fourth largest square in the world. Historical monuments dedicated to the Chinese revolution surround the Square. The Tiananmen Gate or the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the north of the Square carries a larger than life portrait of Mao Zedong and leads to the Forbidden City.

Little did we know at the time, exactly one year later on June 4 1989, a pro-democracy revolution would be staged on the spot by the youth and brutally crushed.

In 2012, I was with a group of Pakistani tourists visiting Tiananmen Square and was surprised to note that the local guide would dodge all questions regarding the 1989 incident. There were plenty of soldiers in uniform and civilian clothes, watching with vigilance, the tourists’ every move. We were relieved to leave the Tiananmen Square and found more peace and comfort in the Forbidden City.

The three ‘T’ squares